Back to Blog List

Gambling Problems: A Risk in Retirement?


While many people enjoy gambling for entertainment, for others gambling becomes extreme and out of control, causing distress and problems in their life.

Gambling disorder is the only behavioral (rather than substance) addiction included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Among the symptoms of gambling disorder are: making repeated unsuccessful efforts to control or cut back on gambling, often being preoccupied with gambling (persistent thoughts), lying to cover up the extent of gambling, and jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job or career opportunity because of gambling. However, how often someone gambles does not necessarily indicate a problem.

While gambling disorder affects a relatively small number of people, 2 percent of the adult population, it can have devastating social, emotional and financial impacts. Gambling in casinos or online gambling may come to mind when thinking of gambling problems, but problem gambling can also be associated with playing bingo, playing the lottery, and friends playing poker.


Seniors may be more vulnerable

Older adults may be particularly vulnerable to problems with gambling. Some of the circumstances that may contribute to older adults gambling include:

  • Extensive free time in retirement
  • Isolation/loss of social networks in retirement
  • Physical limitations preventing participation in activities previously enjoyed
  • Ease of access to casinos, lotteries, bingo
  • Problems with memory or thinking (dementia, medication side effects)

Older adults may start gambling for a variety of reasons, such as socializing, relieving boredom, winning money, giving to charities or coping with stress. (1) One study looking at vulnerability of older adults to gambling and concluded “late-life problem gambling may develop as vulnerable individuals gamble to escape anxiety and depression consequent to deteriorating physical well-being and social support.” (2)

Despite the potential for problems, gambling is not problematic for most people. For many older adults who gamble recreationally, it may actually be a positive activity, potentially contributing to greater social support and fewer symptoms of depression. (1)

Older adults are often targeted in marketing of gambling venues. One study looked at whether bus tour gambling participation was associated with increased odds of problem gambling among older adults. The researchers concluded that using bus tours to access gambling venues is associated with increased risk of problem gambling. The tour participants were more likely to be female and above the age of 75.(3)

Online Screening is Available

Older adults may also be less likely that younger adults to look for help for gambling. (1) A possible first step in identifying a problem is a brief screening. As part of Problem Gambling Awareness Month, the National Council on Problem Gambling highlights the use of a brief screening tool. March 13 is Gambling Disorder Screening Day.

A brief screen can be used to help people decide whether to look for further evaluation of a possible gambling problem. One example is the Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen, a simple, three-question form developed by the Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School A more extensive self-assessment is available from the California Department of Public Health.

For more information:


  • (1) Gambling Research Exchange Ontario. Gambling and Older Adults: What Do We Know? Jessica Tanner.
  • (2) Parke A, et al. Age-related physical and psychological vulnerability as pathways to problem gambling in older adults. Journal of Behavioral Addiction. 2018 Feb; 28:1-9.
  • (3) Van der Maas M, et al. A free ride? An analysis of the association of casino bus tours and problem gambling among older adults. Addiction. 2017 Dec;112(12);2217-2224.
  • Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School. Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen.
  • Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Problem Gambling Among Older Adults. 2007.


Gambling DisorderAddiction


Comments (0) Add a Comment


Add a comment

Enter the text shown in this image:*(Input is case sensitive)
* - Only comments approved by post author will be displayed here.